Fear And Stigma Among Barriers To Health Care For Immigrants And Refugees

Apr 6, 2018

Members of Pittsburgh's immigrant and refugee communities are dealing with a variety of issues that can make health care treatments challenging, according to a forum on Thursday hosted by Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

Veta Farmer, a medical social worker at Magee, said she often works with families dealing with unresolved grief after pregnancy loss.

“A lot of the families who have come over, and the mothers who come over...some have been in war-torn countries,” she said. “A lot of the time the health issues are difficult in those communities. So they have lost children before they come, and when they’re here, sometimes they continue to lose children.”

Farmer said discussing depression is taboo in some cultures, so it can be difficult to help these families get the mental health services they need.

"In our community...you tough it out," said Raihan Izimbetova, a community advocate who immigrated from Uzbekistan. "You don't want the word to be out there in the community and then have some potential negative implications our your family's reputation here or overseas, to the point it might ruin the chances of your sister getting married."

Another issue particular to immigrant and refugee patients is they are more at risk for sexual assault and human trafficking. Serious health problems can result from these crimes, but fear of deportation keeps many victims silent.

Many don't realize that just because they might seek medical attention, it doesn't mean they have to contact the police. 

"[The patients] are in the driver's seat," said Janet McFarland, a forensic science nurse at Magee who provides health care to victims and gathers evidence. “Say you want to come in today and get a [sexual assault] kit, based on a crime that’s occurred, you have two years to go to the police and say ‘I had a kit collected.'"

Indications someone is being abused or trafficked may include signs of malnourishment, exposure to harmful chemicals, restraint or torture. Victims may appear anxious, depressed, tense, nervous or submissive.

Some crime victims, including those who have experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence, are eligible—along with their immediate families—for U Visas, which can become a path to green cards.

(Photo credit: Subconsci Productions / Flickr)